The Electoral College’s Trump dilemma

WASHINGTON — In making what is likely to be the most consequential decision of this transition period, Donald Trump couldn’t resist petty vindictiveness.

Mitt Romney was briefly touted as the front-runner to become secretary of state. After meeting with Trump over a meal, he pronounced himself “very impressed” by the man he had described as “a phony, a fraud” during the campaign.

Trump did not accept this graciously. Citing a Trump friend, The Washington Post reported that the president-elect “enjoyed watching his dinner partner appear to grovel for the post.”

Memo to Trump’s Republican critics: Your initial instincts about Trump were right. Remember that catering to this man will bring only pain and humiliation.

Memo to those claiming that everyone should give Trump a chance now that the people have spoken: Actually, “the people” didn’t make Trump president. They preferred Hillary Clinton by at least 2.8 million votes. If Trump takes office, it’s the Electoral College system that will do it. And the post-election Trump has been as abusive and self-involved as he was during the campaign. The opposition’s job is to stand up and prevent or mitigate the damage he could do to our country.

Memo to the Electoral College that votes next Monday: Our tradition — for good reason — tells you that your job is to ratify the state-by-state outcome of the election. The question is whether Trump, Vladimir Putin and, perhaps, Clinton’s popular-vote advantage give you sufficient reason to blow up the system.

I don’t raise this lightly. The costs of breaking with 188 years of tradition would be very high. Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist 68 explaining the Electoral College is widely cited by those who want electors to stage an anti-Trump revolt. But we shouldn’t pretend that the Electoral College as described by Hamilton bears any resemblance to the system we have used since the 1828 election, when statewide election of its members became almost universal.

Yet defenders of the Electoral College cannot claim that following the state results is an explicit “constitutional” obligation. The Constitution makes no mention of popular election of electors, leaving the manner of their selection to the states. It’s worth asking why the national popular vote should be seen as meaningless while the state-by-state popular vote should be regarded as sacred.

The best response is that, as the National Conference of State Legislatures reports, 29 states and the District of Columbia have statutes that try to bind electors to their voters’ preference. But these cover only 15 of the 30 states Trump carried (plus an elector from Maine), and the popular vote shows that turning on Trump would not be a rejection of the public will.

Moreover, one passage from Federalist 68 seems eerily relevant to the present circumstance. Hamilton wrote that the electors could be a barrier against “the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.” Hamilton asked: “How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union?”

The CIA’s finding that Russia actively intervened in our election to make Trump president is an excellent reason for the electors to consider whether they should exercise their independent power. At the very least, they should be briefed on what the CIA knows, and in particular on whether there is any evidence that Trump or his lieutenants were engaged with Russia during the campaign.

It’s not irrelevant that Trump himself said last July of Clinton’s emails: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” By publicly inviting a foreign power to intervene in our election, Trump put himself ahead of the nation’s interest in holding an election that would be untainted by foreign meddling. It is one of many reasons why conscientious electors might decide that Trump is unfit to be president and may even be a danger to the country.

It will be entirely understandable if 270 or more of the electors pledged to Trump decide they are agents of their state’s voters, not independent actors. They can argue, fairly, that rejecting Trump would threaten the stability of our institutions. But the threat Trump himself presents to those institutions is why electors need to think hard before they make this decision.

And if Trump prevails, as expected, this is also why vigilance rather than acquiescence is the primary duty of those unwilling to forget everything we believed about him before Nov. 8. He’s done nothing to change our minds. Just ask Mitt Romney.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is Twitter: @EJDionne.(c) 2016, Washington Post Writers Group

NOTE: This post was run under the wrong byline today. We have fixed the error and put this post on top. We regret the error.

Should Democrats Become the Party of No?

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Should Democrats Become the Party of No?
By Dick Polman

Barack Obama had just beaten John McCain by a margin of 10 million votes and 7.2 percentage points – the biggest Democratic win since 1964. Democrats also won both congressional chambers. And yet, despite this decisive pro-Democratic mandate to govern, congressional Republicans resolved, at a private dinner on day one, not to offer a scintilla of cooperation. They resolved to thwart Obama’s efforts to fix the Great Recession, hoping that his failures would grease a Republican comeback in the 2012 race. Newt Gingrich, a dinner guest, reportedly told his former colleagues, “You will remember this day. You’ll remember this as the day the seeds of 2012 were sown.”

Here’s where we are today: Trump has lost the popular vote (as of Wednesday) by a whopping 2.66 million. His losing share of the popular vote (46.2 percent) is the worst for an Electoral College winner since John Quincy Adams in 1824. Even his winning electoral vote margin (74) is a pittance compared to Obama’s winning 2808 margin (192). So why should Democrats on Capitol Hill give Trump the cooperative deference that Republicans denied to Obama?

As Michael Corleone said in “The Godfather II” movie, “My offer is this: Nothing.”

Cooperating with Trump, behaving as if he were just another Republican, would lend legitimacy to his authoritarian bent. Cooperating with Trump would “normalize” his racist populism and his serial lies. Such a strategy —- tantamount to surrender —- would be disastrous for a Democratic Party that has spent decades fighting for tolerance and diversity.

Democrats have buckled in the past. Even though George W. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000, they acted as if the guy had a mandate to govern. Lots of Democrats voted for Bush’s deficit-cratering tax cuts. They voted for his Iraq war resolution, despite the dearth of evidence that Saddam had WMDs. They supplied enough votes to put John Roberts in charge of the Supreme Court.

Republicans reciprocated by foiling Obama on a regular basis, blocking everything from his 2011 American Jobs Act (which could’ve put as many as two million people back to work) to his last Supreme Court nominee (the radical refusal to even hold hearings on Merrick Garland was unprecedented).

David Faris, a political science prof at Roosevelt University, said it well in a column the other day:

“[Cooperation] is the first instinct of the Democratic Party even after a crushing, incomprehensible defeat … The urge to minimize the damage in defense of the public interest is broadly shared, and understandable. It must make many Democrats proud to support a party that truly believes in the public good, even at the expense of winning.

“On the other hand, no. It’s time for Democrats to say no. To everything …

“It helps that the Republicans —- led by a man who rage-tweets fake news in the middle of the night —- are about to embark on a long voyage of turning every single thing they touch into garbage. There should be no Democratic fingerprints whatsoever on the coming catastrophe … Hand Trump the keys and let him drive into a tree.”

That sounds harsh. But, lest we forget, Republicans paid virtually no political price for their eight years of anti-Obama obstruction. Voters didn’t seem to care that Republicans thwarted a president who twice won elections with a majority of the popular vote. Why would they punish Democrats for standing in steadfast opposition to an unqualified poseur who was rejected last month by 53.8 percent of all voters? Chuck Schumer, the new Senate minority leader, is indeed warning that when Trump gets too extreme, “we’ll go after him with everything we’ve got.”

Senate Democrats can set the tone by putting Trump’s Cabinet picks through the wringer, because a number of them deserve to be seriously slow-walked —- most notably, attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions (rejected for a federal judgeship 30 years ago, due to his racist remarks), Treasury nominee Steve Mnuchin (who made piles of money foreclosing on homeowners during the Great Recession), and Health and Human Services nominee Tom Price (who wants to kill Obamacare, a move that would nix coverage for 20 million people). And what remotely qualifies Ben Carson to be housing secretary, beyond the fact that he lives in a house?

Fortunately, Democrats are indeed vowing to combat those nominees. Hey, it’s a start. My unsolicited advice is simple: Grow a pair.


Copyright 2016 Dick Polman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia ( and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Pennsylvania. Email him at

The Week That Never Should Have Been

We do not have time for this kind of silliness. ~ BARACK OBAMA

America is slouching toward the end of what has to be the strangest — as well as saddest — week in memory.

It was a week in which President Obama, responding to the short-form birthers who have nipped at his heals for three years, was compelled to belabor the obvious by producing his long-firm birth certificate, while the television news media, which has squandered its credibility in such a thoroughgoing fashion, broke into regular program to carry live the blatherings of the barking maddest of the barking mad of the Republican lunatic fringe, who took credit for the president’s action.

Save perhaps for breaking away to carry live a radio speech by Hitler or Mussolini in the run-up to World War II, there is no such precedent in American media history. It was like going live to one of Bishop Coughlin’s radio speeches in the 1930s because the fascist cleric was expected to attack Jewish bankers.

Even the weather gods seemed especially roiled as violently deadly weather pounded two-thirds of the country. It would not have been all that surprising if the Capitol dome had blown off. Oh, wait a minute, it’s only Thursday.

Let’s be absolutely clear that when questions were first raised in 2008 about whether Barack Obama was American born, they were appropriate. Indeed, similar questions were raised about John McCain. But both candidates soon produced the necessary documentation to show that they were born in Hawaii, in Obama’s case, and in the U.S. Canal Zone in Panama, as was the case with McCain.

But the questions about Obama did not end there and instead have grown exponentially, sucking in true believers like the latest cure for erectile dysfunction. Today fully half of Republicans, according to some polls, believe that Obama has lied and forged his way into covering up his “true” place of birth — Kenya — and be rest assured that most of these minds (a generous use of the term to be sure) will continue to feel the same way. For them, it is never time to move on, and Obama’s legitimacy will be questioned until the day he leaves office. (That would be January 20, 2017.)

To say that this is dog-whistle politics does injustice to dogs everywhere. It is racist at its soulless core and no amount of pretzel logic from Tea Party mouthpieces or conservative talk show shouters will change that.

Meanwhile, like flies attracted to the steaming fecal pies that litter cow pastures, one GOP presidential wannabe after another has covered themselves with those steaming fecal pies as they climbed onto the birther bandwagon, but none as enthusiastically as the vulgar fraud with the double comb-over at whose feet the television news networks grovelled in breaking into their programming to cover his news conference in the “battlefield state” of New Hampshire.

Battlefield, my ass.

There is a case to be made that Obama should have let the birther madness rave on, and some pundits believe that he set a trap that the Republicans willingly walked into. After all, this brand of gotcha politics was roiling an already distracted GOP that a mere 14 weeks after taking over the House finds itself on the defensive because of its plan to close the budget deficit by kneecapping the middle class and poor and rewarding the rich with new stretch limousines. Ironically, theirs is a solution that not even birthers can abide.

But Obama proved himself yet again to be presidential. The U.S. is in crisis, and not because its leader has a funny name and the flames of racism were being further fueled by birthers. He had to throw water on the fire and turn our collective attention back to where it belongs.

Too bad that many Republican and their television news media helpmates will not be doing so. After all, there are questions about how Obama got into two Ivy League schools and became editor of the Harvard Law Review since the man with the double comb-over claims he got such lousy grades in high school.

Worry not, America, because he’s on the case.

Photograph by Jim Cole/The Associated Press

Poll: 52% of Republicans Think ACORN Stole Election For Obama

Before you read this story, play this video below to set the proper mood:


Now read this poll:

Losing NY-23 candidate Doug Hoffman became the latest in an increasingly long line of conservative politicians to blame his problems on ACORN yesterday despite the complete lack of evidence the organization played any role in his defeat.

The Republican base is with him though. PPP’s newest national survey finds that a 52% majority of GOP voters nationally think that ACORN stole the Presidential election for Barack Obama last year, with only 27% granting that he won it legitimately. Clearly the ACORN card really is an effective one to play with the voters who will decide whether Hoffman gets to be the Republican nominee in a possible repeat bid in 2010.

Belief in the ACORN conspiracy theory is even higher among GOP partisans than the birther one, which only 42% of Republicans expressed agreement with on our national survey in September.

The ACORN line has been largely promoted by talk radio hosts, then picked up by politicians — yet another sign of the talk radio political culture at work.

Once upon a time, Republican politicians exploited the far right and conservative talk show hosts who could be counted on to get far right members of the party’s political base to the polls to vote Republican. Now, increasingly, the tail is wagging the dog in terms of some prevalent beliefs, talking points and some matters of party strategy. It’s yet another sign of the GOP’s weakening center, which is also reflects the country’s sagging center in an era of intensifying partisan and ideological polarization — as well as a sign of today’s less assertive elected Republican party leadership.

Some Democrats still charged after 2000 that George W. Bush lost the election. But the party leadership in general didn’t question the legitimacy of the Supreme Court’s election (remember Al Gore’s 2000 concession speech?) and the de-delegitmizing George Bush was not the key opposition theme during his presidency But — as in the case of centrists, independents and moderates — Republicans are not a monolithic block, as this poll shows. This poll seems to represent the Glenn Beck fan portion of the party which will pick up the ball and run with anything that can be used to argue that Obama is not a legitimate President. But here in lies the danger for the GOP.

Writes My DD’s Jonathan Singer:

Overall, the American people roundly reject the notion that ACORN somehow stuffed enough ballots — at least 9,500,000 of them — to somehow steal the election from John McCain and give it to Barack Obama. (This theory also compels the conclusion that ACORN somehow forged every single pre-election poll, including even those from Fox News (.pdf), the trend of which tracked almost exactly with the ultimate election results.) Indeed, Americans say no to this theory by a 62 percent to 26 percent margin — including a 72 percent to 18 percent margin among Independents.

If the Republicans want to continue to live in their own world with their own “facts”, they can certainly go ahead and do that. But it’s not so easy to woo new voters to one’s cause when those being wooed think those doing the wooing have only an attenuated relationship with reality.


Afghan Balloon Boy


Paresh Nath, The Khaleej Times, UAE

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